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The French Revolution Threatens Marriage, and Thus Civilization—Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797)

Edmund Burke was a statesman, author, and spokesman for conservative values, whose most famous book is Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). In that work, written soon after the revolution had begun, he criticized the French attempts to discard all inherited tradition and accumulated wisdom. (This included a desire to completely eradicate the Church—even to the extent of establishing a new calendar, which declared 1789 to be the new year “one.”)1 In 1796, he penned letters denouncing the emergent French “system of manners,” including their contempt for traditional marriage. In France, divorce became easy and a radical egalitarianism dismissed male leadership in the home.2 In response, Burke paid homage to biblical marriage, advanced by the Church and undergirded by the state. In this passage, he recognized traditional, Christian marriage as the very ground of civilization.3

All their new institutions, (and with them everything is new,) strike at the root of our social nature. Other Legislators, knowing that marriage is the origin of all relations, and consequently the first element of all duties, have endeavoured, by every art, to make it sacred. The Christian Religion, by confining it to the pairs, and by rendering that relation indissoluble, has, by these two things, done more towards the peace, happiness, settlement, and civilization of the world, than by any other part in this whole scheme of Divine Wisdom.4


See Kairos Journal article, "The Cult of Unreason."


See Suzanne Desan, The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).


See Kairos Journal article, "Marriage: The Foundation of Society."


Edmund Burke, Letters on Regicide Peace, in Select Works of Edmund Burke, vol. 3 (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1999), 3.1.106, (accessed November 4, 2005).